Social Media Trends Transforming Travel

Lauren Durfy

Travel and tourism investment was USD 806.5 billion in 2016 and is currently outperforming the global economy in overall growth. In terms of employment, the travel and tourism industry also outperforms a number of other industries, including the education, financial services and healthcare in new job growth.

All this growth and success is leading to rapid change. Evolving technology, legislative instability, the success of non-traditional players, and the rise of social media is transforming the tourism landscape.

A statistic from Neilsen states, in a typical buyer journey, 57% of the purchase decision is made before a customer even calls a service provider or supplier. Rachel Brown from Olapic writes that “travelers now have the privilege of instantaneous access to information across the web such as Buzzfeed guides, TripAdvisor reviews, and travelers’ Instagram photos depicting their latest vacations.”

Real-time and user-generated information has changed the way travelers approach planning a trip, from inspiration and research to booking. Here are four social media trends changing the travel industry:

Multi-Channel Marketing Impacts Consumer Decisions

As numerous trends emerge within the travel & tourism industry, savvy-travelers are leveraging social media to make travel decisions is growing numbers. According to Nielsen, travelers spent an average of 53 days visiting 28 different websites over a period of 76 online sessions, with more than 50% of travelers checking social media for travel tips.

The impact of digital marketing channels is growing increasingly relevant for today’s informed traveler. This is further justified as experts predict the digital travel space will expand at an annual rate of 3.8% to reach $11.4 trillion.

Forward-thinking travel brands have embraced social media as a part of their multi-channel marketing strategy to indirectly influence consumer decisions. Travel brands no longer need to rely on traditional forms of media such as TV advertising or print ads to reach vacation-ready consumers. Fifty-five percent of users will engage with related social media content while planning and booking their destination.

Brands like Tenon Tours who understand their consumers are more educated have turned to digital channels to engage consumers and drive them to their website. Tenon isn’t a one-off case since many major brands have also embraced social media as a key marketing channel to engage consumers:

  • Air Asia has a massive Twitter following with over 3.2 million followers.
  • American Airlines is one of the most active with over 1.87 million Tweets.
  • Hotel Urbano (in Brazil) has more than 12 million likes on Facebook.
  • Soho House has an impressive Instagram account with over 331k followers.

Social Touches Shaping Travel Decisions

Studies show millennials are more tech-savvy and connected than any previous generation and they are changing the way travel is consumed. But it isn’t just millennials, all generations are increasingly turning to online channels. Just US mobile travel sales alone totaled more than $75.85 billion in 2017.

In the early stage of the decision-making process, potential customers narrow down their choices through online research. Google put together a buyer’s journey and called it the digital moments that lead up to someone booking a trip.

In the image below, we can see a traveler’s micro-moments over the course of four months. In this case, there were 7000+ digital touch points prior to the customer making their final decision.

To remain competitive brands need to influence this process with an overarching digital strategy to guide the customer through their buyer’s journey.

Employee Advocacy

One initiative gaining momentum with travel brands is Employee Advocacy. While the idea of Employee Advocacy has been around for years, organizations across all industries are taking notice of the positive benefits of employee advocacy through social media. Brand messages reach 561 percent further when shared by employees vs. the same messages shared via official brand social channels.

Through Employee Advocacy, travel companies can increase brand awareness, boost engagement, improve brand trust, and increase sales. One travel organization with an innovative employee advocacy strategy is The Travel Corporation (TTC). The Travel Corporation brand has generated over 450,000 content interactions and $1M in earned media value through their employees.

Employees in travel are passionate about their industry and love sharing travel experiences over social. Their content tends to be highly visual, personal, exciting and generates high engagement. Creating a strategic employee advocacy program allows employers to tap into the authenticity of their employees’ posts to drive more awareness, inbound leads and ultimately sales.

Importance of Positive Brand Sentiment

To stay top of mind and ensure their travel offers are included in the buyer’s journey, brands need to maintain and nurture their online reputation. With so many choices, customers will easily overlook or disregard brands with a minimal online presence or those with multiple unanswered negative reviews.

Travelers are also increasingly relying on travel review sites when booking. The share of US travelers who said travel review sites influenced their travel choices increased by 10 percent year over year. According to Huffington Post, over 95% of leisure travelers read at least seven reviews before booking their holidays. Many review sites contain user-generated content (UGC) which is seen as more authentic in the eyes of the consumer. It is important for travel companies to promote positive UGC and provide an outlet for negative reviews.

Today, the focus of major travel brands is on operational excellence, service, and providing value for every customer across all their brands. Travel companies want to ensure their customers have the best guest experiences in order to win that repeat business. To help them amplify their brands and drive engagement, travel companies should partner with their own employees to showcase their brand’s incredible travel experiences. With social advocacy, travel brands can build trust and stay top of mind with potential, current and past travelers.

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